Thanks to the hard work of Maine’s congressional delegation, on March 12, the Land and Water Conservation Fund was permanently reauthorized when a bipartisan public lands package was signed into law. Since 1965, the fund has supported community projects all across the country, including iconic Maine places like Acadia National Park, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Grafton Notch and Bigelow Preserve. Without the fund, our state would look very different — let’s not forget that all of Maine’s most popular state parks owe their existence to the fund, including Aroostook, Cobscook, Lamoine, Camden Hills, Lily Bay, Peaks Kenny, Wolfe’s Neck Woods, Androscoggin Riverlands, Reid, Popham, Mount Blue, Sebago and more.
The value of this program for local park projects in municipalities across Maine cannot be understated. The fund has protected and established parks in 282 Maine communities, from Kittery to Fort Kent and Lubec to Oquossoc, putting most of us within close proximity to a local recreation resource that exists because of the fund. Easily accessible local parks offer a multitude of benefits to local residents: access to green space, recreation opportunities, exercise, but also cognitive and spiritual benefits. Well-managed, open and inviting public parks are also proven economic drivers for communities.
The fund also supports landscape-scale protection in Maine, bringing many communities together with shared benefit. These projects ensure that the character, resources and economic opportunities are permanently protected. The Forest Legacy Program, which is a subset of the fund, has provided millions of dollars of support to Maine, allowing private landowners and conservation organizations to work with state agencies to protect working forests. The Appalachian Mountain Club is a good example. It partnered with Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands on a Forest Legacy Project in 2003.
Thanks to our congressional delegation the fund has achieved permanent reauthorization and therefore will be available to create new parks and protect Maine’s special places forever. Sen. Susan Collins has long been a champion for the fund. She has led countless efforts to educate her colleagues on these issues and deserves a great deal of thanks for her years of work to pass permanent reauthorization.
Sen. Angus King is a strong advocate for public lands and national parks. While governor, King understood the importance of land conservation and public funding and carried that experience with him to the U.S. Senate.
Both of our senators were instrumental in the swift victory for the fund early in this new Congress. When the program expired in October 2018, they continued to work with their colleagues and Senate leadership to ensure that it remained a top priority when the new congressional session began. They consistently worked with advocates and leaders back home to explore pathways to success. Without their persistence and collaborative work with their Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle, the landmark 92-8 vote would not have been possible.
The House also passed permanent reauthorization of the fund with overwhelming support. Rep. Chellie Pingree has been a steadfast supporter of the program and advocated for increased funding levels. She set an excellent example for Maine’s new member of Congress, Jared Golden, who cast one of his first votes in Congress in support of permanent reauthorization for the fund.
So we offer a huge thank you to our congressional delegation for their hard work and support. Maine communities, working forests and recreation resources will benefit for years to come.
Tracy Willette is director of Bangor Parks & Recreation and president of the Maine Recreation & Parks Association. Kaitlyn Bernard is the Maine policy manager for the Appalachian Mountain Club.